So here we are, expectant again for better sense to prevail in the matter of who can or who should be intimate with whom, how and where. The Honourable Supreme Court of India, in the latest rounds of hearings on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, seemed to show a strong intent to defang this statute in so far as adult consensual sex of any kind (between humans) is concerned.
In the hearings that were conducted with remarkable speed from July 10-17, 2018, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court heard a batch of writ petitions and intervention applications questioning the constitutional validity of Section 377. Even a cursory reading of the proceedings would show that the judges were inclined to take an expansive view of the impact of Section 377 beyond criminalization of specific sexual acts – at the larger social, cultural, economic and political exclusion of queer people.
True, this law applies to anyone who practices sex against the so called “order of nature”, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But its disproportionately damning impact on the constitutional rights of queer people is something that needs to be acknowledged loud and clear. The court seemed to do so during the hearings and now its verdict is awaited.
The government, on the other hand, has repeatedly shown itself to be frivolous, insensitive and opportunist around not just Section 377 but queer issues in general. What should one feel when Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi uses the phrase “the other ones” for transgender people in the Lok Sabha and then apologizes that she wasn’t aware of the “official terminology”? Or when Members of Parliament like the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Nishikant Dubey make homophobic remarks in reaction to Rahul Gandhi’s hug for Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Two men holding hands or hugging in public may still raise eyebrows in the West. Are Nishikant Dubey and others so inspired by such ‘foreign’ thinking that they have to see every single man’s hug as something sexual?
The most ingenious move on the government’s part, of course, was to say that it wouldn’t contest the petitions seeking decriminalization of queer people. Whatever its motivations on walking a tightrope between appearing ‘modern’ and holding on to its orthodox support base, the government’s stand was actually an abdication of responsibility towards India’s queer citizens. It was disrespectful and how bullies behave on a day when they pretend to be nice and decide not to bully so as to win some brownie points. The power to bully on another day remains in their hands.
One also heard some talk of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s gay fans finally being able to claim moral victory for him and shut up the liberals if Section 377 goes or is read down. If there would be any reason for the liberals to keep quiet, it would be to just marvel at the sheer short sighted nature of such fandom.
It’s amid such developments that this webzine completes five years. A struggle it has been and will continue to be. Cutting down the hold of Section 377 on our lives is but a small part of the search for survival with dignity. Larger social change for removing stigma and discrimination around gender, sexuality and everything related will continue to make unprecedented demands on our energies and resources. Among other things, this also means that we all learn to take care of our health. More so our mental health, an issue that has been of specific interest for Varta right from its first monthly issue in August 2013!
Mental health constitutes also the core theme of a daylong symposium planned by Varta Trust on August 4, 2018 at Seva Kendra Calcutta Training Centre. Titled ‘Queering Mental Health: Symposium on Mental Health Concerns of Queer People in India’, this symposium is planned on the occasion of our 5th foundation day August 1, 2018.
The symposium will feature panels and audience interaction on the themes of counselling needs of queer people and their families, role of educational institutions in protecting mental health, and the laws and policies that can help promote better mental health for queer people. The speakers at the symposium have been drawn from the fields of mental health, education, law and social work – from Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi and Gurgaon.
The symposium is part of ‘Reach OUT’, an online and event-based campaign to publicize an online locator of queer friendly health and legal aid professionals across India. The locator has been developed by Varta Trust in collaboration with SAATHII, Chennai and Grindr For Equality, Los Angeles.
Registrations for the symposium are over, but we plan to bring you a detailed report on the event in the August 2018 issue of Varta. In the meantime, here’s wishing all our readers, contributors and well wishers peace and joy, but also restlessness to make those happen!
About the main photo: A queer community vigil organized in Chennai during the Supreme Court hearings on Section 377 from July 10-17, 2018. Photo credit: Jaya Sahodaran